Many families have a “skeleton in their closet.” Perhaps, there was a ne’er do well grandparent or an ex-con in the family tree. These would be embarrassing situations that you wouldn’t want publicized, but their ramifications on your life would not be significant, particularly if they occurred before you were even born. Well, there are skeletons, and then there are SKELETONS! Imagine that you found out, quite by accident, that your grandfather was a Nazi during WWII, and not just any Nazi, but one of the most notorious concentration camp Commandants, the so-called “Butcher of Plaszow,” Amon Goeth. Such is the skeleton facing Jennifer Teege.
Teege is a biracial German-Nigerian woman who has lived most of her life in Germany. Her biological mother was German, and her biological father was Nigerian. When she was only a few weeks old she was left at a children’s home. Subsequently, she was placed in foster care. She spent her childhood with various foster families. She only saw her biological mother occasionally. She was closer to her maternal grandmother. By all accounts, she had a normal middle class upbringing.
Teege spent several years in Israel as a student where, among other things, she earned a college degree at Tel Aviv University and became fluent in Hebrew. During this time she developed an affinity for Israel and the Jewish people. Subsequently, she returned home to Germany, married and raised a family. All this time she had no clue as to her family’s deep, dark secret.
She discovered it by accident. Apparently, she happened upon a book about Goeth in her local library. The author was his illegitimate daughter. Teege noticed that the author bore a striking resemblance to her own mother. It was shocking to her as she realized the implications. “It was like the carpet was ripped out beneath my feet” she stated. She felt compelled to read the entire book, and she realized a startling truth. Goeth was, in fact, her grandfather. Moreover, since she was biracial, her own grandfather would have had her shot on the spot!
Goeth was notorious. He personally supervised the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943. Any survivors were placed in his camp or in Auschwitz. His special perverse pleasure was to shoot Jewish camp inmates for arbitrary reasons, such as perceived laziness, failed escape attempts by others, or for just plain sport, and then have his dogs attack them. Goeth was hanged for war crimes in 1946.
Briefly, the family history is as follows:
1. Teege’s maternal grandmother, Ruth Irene Kalder, was a secretary in Oskar Schlindler’s factory. It was Schlindler, himself, who first introduced her to Goeth.
2. Goeth’s wife was back home in Austria.
3. Goeth and Kalder had an affair, which produced Teege’s mother, Monika Hertwig.
4. Later, Hertwig had a brief fling with a Nigerian student, which produced Teege.
5. It was Hertwig’s book entitled “I Have to Love my Father, Right?” that set Teege on her quest for the truth about her family’s skeleton.
As stated above, Teege said she had been shocked to learn of her ancestry. Heinous as that was, however, she said the hardest thing for her to grasp was how her grandmother could love a man as cruel as Goeth. In addition, she said she had difficulty reconciling this situation with her love of Israel and the Jewish people.
At some point, she decided to write about her family’s history. She has said that one of the primary motivations for doing so was reading an interview of Herman Goering’s grandniece, who said she was so ashamed of her infamous ancestor that she had herself sterilized to “end her bloodline.”
Teege is not about to do anything so drastic. She prefers to look at the bright side. Who you are as a person, she opines, is not determined by some black sheep ancestor; your character is decided by you.
Teege has written a book about this situation entitled “My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me.” So far, it has only been published in Hebrew, but an English version is set for April. It should make for fascinating reading.